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​Should Hondas with faulty air bags get "do not drive" orders?

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Latest MoneyWatch headlines 01:03

If a car's faulty air bag has a 50/50 chance of rupturing, should its owners still drive it? Not according to two senators, who are asking Honda to issue "do not drive" orders for the cars.

Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) want the automaker to take the step after tests revealed that some 2001-2003 Honda and Acura vehicles have air bag rupture rates as high as 50 percent in a crash. The defect stems from faulty Takata air bag inflators, which have been tied to more than a dozen deaths and 100 injuries. The devices include a highly volatile chemical that can degrade with age, moisture, and temperature, which means older cars with the inflators are at higher risk for a rupture.

The lawmakers' request highlight the dilemma facing the owners of vehicles with the recalled air bags, given that millions of the cars are still on the road amid a recall that a Kelley Blue Book expert has described to CBS as "a mess on so many levels." In the case of the older Honda vehicles, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has urged owners of the 2001-2003 Honda and Acura cars to drive them only to their dealers to get repaired. But Blumenthal and Markey say that's not enough.

"A 'do not drive' instruction should be conspicuously displayed on any recall notices, as well as this new test data so owners are informed that in the event of a crash, there is a 50 percent chance that the air bag will violently explode," Markey and Blumenthal wrote in a letter on Tuesday, adding that they were "disappointed that Honda does not appear to have taken this important step."

Owners shouldn't even drive their cars to the dealer or repair shop to get the fixes, they noted. They urged Honda to provide mechanics who can travel to a car owner's residence to fix the car, or to provide free towing. There are about 313,000 models of the 2001-2003 Hondas and Acuras that still are on the road and haven't been fixed.

Honda said it will cover the costs of towing if a customer is uncomfortable or unable to drive the affected cars.

"We appreciate the Senators' efforts to raise the sense of urgency because we also want the vehicles with Alpha inflators fixed as soon as possible," Honda spokesman Chris Martin wrote in an email.

So far, there's a 70 percent recall completion rate among these older models, although Honda said in a statement last month that many of the unrepaired cars are in high humidity areas that increase the risk of rupture, such as Florida. The models that may have one of the faulty inflators are:

  • 2001-2002 Honda Accord
  • 2001-2002 Honda Civic
  • 2002 Honda CR-V
  • 2002 Honda Odyssey
  • 2003 Honda Pilot
  • 2002-2003 Acura 3.2 TL
  • 2003 Acura 3.2CL

Honda said owners can receive a loaner or rental vehicle while their car is repaired.

While older cars are at higher risk for a rupture, many other models with the faulty air bags are still on the road, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration expecting about 70 million vehicles to be recalled by December 2019. The recalls are prioritized based on the age of the car and whether it's in a hot and humid climate.

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